Nature’s fall color palette and a meteor shower this weekend

From the Institute for Climate Education at A-B Tech:  For those of us who consider ourselves to be “visual” people, fall can be simply overwhelming.  Everywhere we look, there’s something else that takes our breath away.

To me, one of the prettiest sights this time of year is a tree that still has green leaves, but is also boldly displaying leaves of yellow, orange and red, too. Our maple trees are very good at displaying this full palette of fall colors —  all in one convenient compact spot. If you look, you will see many on display in Asheville this week.

The fall colors that we see in the leaves are the result of the breakdown of the chlorophyll that provides the leaves with their typical green color. This process is started by the increasing length of night and shorter daylight hours that we start to experience in late summer and early fall.  As the trees prepare themselves for winter, the production of chlorophyll slows and then stops. The result is that green is no longer the dominant color, and the other colors in the leaves become visible.

If you enjoy the golden glow provided by the yellow leaves in the fall forest, you can thank the yellow pigments in the leaves — called xanthophylls – for the beautiful display. (The word comes from Greek: xanthos – yellow and phyllon — leaf.) 

The vibrant orange leaves are the result of orange pigments called carotenoids and the vibrant reds and purples are the result of pigments knows as anthocyanins. If you would like to learn more about the science of autumn color, click here.

Whatever your favorite, the colors are really beginning to put on a show at the mid-elevations and this weekend may be one of the best opportunities to get out and enjoy the show. Following the passage of a cold front late today, the weekend weather looks like it should be perfect for getting out and exploring the countryside.  Be sure to bring your camera … and a jacket!

This weekend also brings a chance to catch an early morning meteor shower that has a history of putting on quite a show. The Orionid meteor shower will peak very early on Sunday morning, October 21, as the Earth passes through the debris of Halley’s comet. The best time to look is several hours before dawn on Sunday morning. So, grab a blanket, a coat and some strong coffee (!) and head outside.  Find a comfy spot to lie down and look high overhead at the constellation Orion. You’ll find more information on the meteor shower here.

Wondering what to expect for the upcoming winter?  The Institute is hosting a free public seminar on Thursday, November 8th at 6:00 p.m. at Ferguson Auditorium on the A-B Tech Asheville campus. Meteorologist Tom Ross will present the long range winter weather outlook for this winter.  Join us and learn the latest about El Nino and whether or not it will have an impact on our winter.  Click here for more information including an informational flyer and a map.

I hope to see you there!

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